Throwing Junk (just tossing some numbers around)

I’m big on cross-curricular integration. The Ontario curriculum is huge, with more than I feel is possible to cover in any meaningful way. And I hate gym. So, if I can kill cover as many birds as possible, yay for me.

Here is a game I call Don’t Throw Your Junk in My Backyard (after the song), and some ways to integrate math and physical activity.

First, here’s the game.

Have the class divide itself into 2 or 4 groups, each team getting a half or a quarter of the gym. Or you can divide them, unevenly, and see how fast they figure out about equal division and same sized fractions.

Put out “Junk,” which is any piece of equipment that can be lobbed from one side of the gym to the other, safely, such as bean bags, soft balls, foam frisbees, etc. Have a fixed amount that can be shared equally among the groups.

Blow the whistle and have the students pick up and lob or slide (whatever you feel is safest – unless you enjoy filling out insurance forms) the “Junk” from their side to the other team’s side.

Give a time limit and blow the whistle again when the time is up.

Have each team count the “Junk” in its yard. Get ideas for the fastest way to count these, so they can GET ON WITH THE GAME ALREADY!

Determine which team has the least “Junk” And how much less (many pieces fewer). Working with a friendly number, like a ten, or even 100 can build number sense.

Discuss the winning team’s strategies for clearing their junk quickly, and challenge the other team to incorporate those strategies next round.

A Backyard Garden of Delights

In The Garden
by Peggy Collins

This is a joyous concept book that takes us through three seasons and the life cycle of the backyard garden. It stars a preschool-aged boy who is discovering the wondrous changes that happen between putting seeds in the ground and enjoying the fruits of his labours.

This book is full of big, bright illustrations. Each mixed media drawing teems with life, every page crawling with the little and large creatures that we share our small corners of paradise with. The art is cartoony and exaggerated, fun and energetic.

The writing is full of gentle humour, in a voice that is easily grasped by young children, but still holds appeal for the adults doing the read aloud. And it has some lovely observations that reflect a real understanding of the way a little person sees the world.

Teachers, use it in units that explore life cycles, plants, the interaction between man and the environment, and our food sources. It is also great for studying descriptive language, and text features like the creative use of font colour and size.

Collins has another book in this series called In The Snow, and several others that she has authored and/or illustrated. Her blog is listed in the side menu.

The Next Chapter

This is a note I post for parents who use my class website. Please feel free to copy it and share it as you wish.

Reading chapter books is different from reading picture books. At the heart of it, there are two reasons to read fiction: comprehension and entertainment. To help your child/student understand and enjoy chapter books, there are a few things to think about.

First, chapter books are more complicated than picture books. Many picture books are simply concept books. This means there is no story. There are just some ideas about a topic, like counting or feelings. Chapter books are almost always stories, and the reader has to know how a story is put together. So, the reader has to know about the setting, the characters, and the time. The reader also has to know about story beginnings, middles, and ends. As well, in chapter books, the problem and solution part of a story is very important, and it takes much longer for the problem to be fixed. Many chapter book series are quite formulaic, even beyond the typical progression of the story arc in a novel. Beginning and reluctant readers will often latch onto a series because this familiarity makes reading each successive book easier.

Second, there can be two stories that happen at the same time. This means that there are two problems to think about, and sometimes two main characters. Keeping these problems straight can be hard for people just starting to read chapter books.

Third, the length of a chapter book needs good memory skills, so that the story events and details can be remembered for the whole time it takes to read the book.

Fourth, depending on the book, there can be a lot of extraneous, superfluous, and diverting information that the reader has to filter through. The more descriptive the writing, the more outside of the reader’s experience, and the more purposely obtuse details (in the case of mystery and suspense), the more difficult (and one might argue more enjoyable) the read.

The increased complexity and depth of chapter books makes them a challenge, but the plot complications, older subject matter, and rich language make them an experience for all young readers to aspire to. And each experience makes the next one better.

Here are some tips for kids reading chapter books.

Talk about what you are reading as you read. When you talk about your reading, you give your brain extra practice remembering what happens. This will help to keep the whole story in the memory for the whole time it takes to read the book.

Visualize (picture) the characters and setting as you read about them. The pictures will help you remember these important parts of the book.

As you start each chapter, think about what you read in the chapter before. This is really good if you have just picked the book up again after a break. If you can’t remember what happened before, reread the last few paragraphs you read, to remind you.

Always remember that the character has a problem to solve. If you think about that problem and how everything that is happening helps to solve the problem or makes the problem worse, the story will be easier to remember and more enjoyable to read.

A Title I Can Never Remember

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Julie Vivas

I am in awe of Mem Fox. I find that she has an almost solitary voice in a market glutted with books that star TV characters and snotty brats, and almost devoid of any kind of positive adult/child relationships. Fox does not write books for the sole purpose of entertaining children. Her books handle weighty topics and convey deep messages.

WGMcP is about a young boy, barely in school, and his relationship with the folks who live in the old age home next door. He and his neighbours have a mutual appreciation, despite, or maybe because of living at the far ends of time’s ever swinging pendulum. But he has the greatest connection with Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper (who also has four names).

Poor Miss Nancy has lost her memory, an idea that makes no sense to WGMcP. What kind of a friend would he be if he didn’t help her find her memories again? If only he knew what a memory was, so he knew what he was looking for.

With the counsel of his wise neighbours, Wilfred learns the nature of memories, and he sets about collecting objects that he thinks fit the bill. A warm chicken egg, some sea shells, a puppet, a football, and a medal are all presented to Miss Nancy, one by one.

And this is where you start to cry.

Conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia touch us all more and more. Beautifully written, Fox uses the special and necessary relationships that can form between children and adults to present the topic gently, giving parents and teachers a resource that will provide opportunities to discuss and learn about the effects of what is happening to their loved ones.

A Close Look at Patterning

The Big Ideas in Patterning

In Ontario, there are five math curriculum strands that must be covered each year in elementary school. Of the five, I always gave patterning short shrift. I never really understood why having the kids make strings of red, yellow, and blue beads was relevant, and it was usually something I left to the last minute, or something I had the kids do while I assessed students or worked with small groups on “important” math.

Then, last year, I decided to find out more about it, and this past May, I presented my research and exploration of patterning at the Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators conference in Toronto. Unfortunately, I only had about 70 minutes, which, judging by the saucer eyes I saw staring back at me, was only enough time to turn my workshop participants on their heads and send them out the door, walking on their hands.

Therefore, over the next few months, I’d like to use my blog to go into more depth and engage in some discussion about what I’ve learned and the activities I’m developing.

The first thing I want to share is my list of what I consider to be the big ideas that students should learn about patterning. These are compiled and cobbled together from the NCTM standards, readings from Van de Walle and Small, and research by Joanne Mulligan. I have no idea, anymore, which ideas are theirs or mine, so lets just assume it’s all part of a Jungian zeitgeist and carry on.

1. patterns are models
2. patterns model relationships and structures
3. patterns simultaneously represent consistency and change in those relationships and structures
4. understanding pattern means being able to recognize, extend, replicate, predict and exploit those relationships and structures
5. understanding pattern means being able to identify, diagnose, and perhaps repair breakdowns in those relationships and structures

These are some pretty big ideas indeed, and they seem a bit too grand to be achieved by stringing beads together. They are very likely not something most primary teachers keep in mind when chanting “red, yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue” with their students, during calendar time.

But as I post, I will endeavour to always refer back to these ideas, and we’ll see what other, perhaps more effective ways there are to discover and explore them. More to come.